The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

July 19, 2013

Ah, memories!

I was sitting at my keyboard Thursday morning, after a strong double-dose of caffeine and Irish creme, waiting for inspiration. Sweating a bit from the hot coffee — after a brief sojourn outside in the oppressively humid morning air — it hit me.

A memory.

Now I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more these random bits of memory hit me like waves. The heat. The humidity. The lack of breeze. That sticky feeling that raced across my upper-body. I suddenly was back years ago, crawling out of a dirty Civil War-era A-frame canvas tent, trying to clear my mind from having slept in a sweaty-damp wool Confederate uniform on some Missouri battlefield.

As a living history re-enactor for many years, you learn to wake up to sweaty-damp, a lack of any cooling breeze, and the thought of yet another hot, humid, energy-draining day carrying a 10 pound musket and accoutrements “having fun,” as we wryly called it back in the day.

And it struck me at that moment: Why, as a youth, almost all of us (save me) had a borderline loathing of studying history in school.

Probably because our brains had no context at the time. Cars or girls or hormones or school activities or after-school jobs took up all waking moments.

Yet, I’ve found almost without exception, the older a person gets the more they appreciate history.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that when we are younger — school age — we have fewer memories. The older you get, the more memories you accumulate.

And, memories are history — a reality at the time they happen.

Oh, we don’t like to call memories history. That brings back connotations of having to remember bits and pieces of the Declaration of Independence, the day George Washington and his small army crossed the Delaware, or one of those hard-to-pronounce battles in Belgium from the First World War.

That came in a classroom, with a teacher surrounded by all the distractions I previously enumerated.

But a memory is different. And probably, if we all sat down and just thought about how memories come about, they would grow a bit tedious and dull.

What I like about memories — our own personal history — is that they usually come upon us spontaneously.

I mentioned this in a previous column, but earlier this week, when we had one of those very rare north breezes in July, in one of the weirdest summer weather patterns you will ever see in Oklahoma, the clear aroma of hamburgers and grilled onions hit me in waves walking out of the News & Eagle’s front door.

Memories from my youth. Maybe memories from your youth.

Or that warm and still and noise-free day I spent walking through my hometown. Sights and smells from my youth absolutely came flooding back, with memories of having played in the deep shade of a tree-choked, low-lying gully that runs through the west side of Waukomis.

Memories from my youth.

Why is it that memories are so intense, so real to us?

Maybe they aren’t real to you, or as intense, but from people I talk to, the older you get, the better the memories become.

Even the bad ones seem to lose their hard edge over the years, and become memories of things you did wrong, learned from, and made you a better person — a wiser person — than in your younger days when some catastrophe befell you.

At least it seemed a catastrophe at the time.

Now, maybe 30 or 40 years later, you can look back at your memories and say, “That wasn’t really all that bad. Just seemed so at the time.”

Memories from my youth.

You might drive by a property in your hometown, and remember an old house or building, an old bois d’arc fence post, a pond, something that triggers a memory of a bygone day, and you see a new business on that parcel of land that has totally changed that patch of dirt forever.

Or the smell of peach pie, or a roast cooking somewhere on a Sunday afternoon in a neighbor’s kitchen. One of our keenest senses, smell brings back memories as much as sight and sound.

And, I’ve noticed without fail, we also tend to sweeten and add to our memories, once they come flooding back. We whittle off the marginal things in a memory, the things that tend toward the bad, and our minds make it better. It’s just human nature.

When I experience a memory, I always consciously remind myself: I am sifting through the greatest history book ever devised — the human brain.

And I just sit back and enjoy the moment.

Try it — I guarantee you’ll like it.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at http://enid news.com/historicallyspeaking

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